John Menz has worked at the Port Weller drydocks for more than half of the 83-year history of the facility.
Menz grew up in Port Dalhousie, attending what was then called Lakeport High School (now Eden High School). When he left high school in 1975, he moved naturally into a five-day welding course put on by the busy nearby drydock, which at the time was always searching for new, young talent.
Other than a few years in other fabricating operations, Menz has been in Port Weller ever since.
He has the smiling, weathered face of someone who happily works outside in the elements. You can tell he works hard and plays hard.
Now, just as he reaches his 64th birthday, he’s beginning to consider retirement, although he’s known his employer, Heddle Shipyards, still needs his knowledge and experience.
Menz is a day shift supervisor, overseeing the work of 25 men putting the Kaministiqua back into shape. He’s also the dockmaster responsible for parking these huge lock-sized vessels in the drydock.
He admits he has his hands full with the Kaministiqua. “The pressure is always there to complete the work in time for the reopening of the canal,” he says.
And they always seem to need more workers. “We were saying this morning, we need at least five more men to keep to the schedule.”
Menz has worked for all four of the companies that have operated Port Weller over the decades. The first three companies ended in bankruptcy. “Whenever there was work going on here, they found me to come back.”
“In fact, I was working here with Algoma Ship Repair—that would have been 2016. And Rick Heddle (CEO of Heddle Shipyards) was touring the facility before signing a long-term lease. He was going on board, I was coming off an Algoma boat, and we met on the gangway.
“So, we chatted. And he remembered me when they eventually took over the following year.”
The biggest change over his 45 years at Port Weller has been welding technology. “It all used to be stick welding in the early days,” remembers Menz. “Now all the welding is done with wire-fed machines. Much faster and cleaner. Just pull the trigger and weld.”
Menz expresses optimism about this go-around at Port Weller. “The drive is there. They are chasing work. And they want to make this a viable shipyard again. Putting a lot of capital into the place.”
Menz and his second wife have four children and eight grandchildren, mostly in and around St. Catharines.
He is torn between the call of retirement and the needs of an industry he’s served for close to five decades.
But he doesn’t seem too worried. With 45 years in, he’s looking forward to working in his extensive basement woodworking shop in the winter and his prosperous backyard gardens in summer.